The former Massachusetts governor on Saturday won 38.1 per cent of the vote, with 54.4 per cent of precincts reporting. Trailing were Ron Paul, congressman from Texas, with 24.2 per cent; Rick Santorum, former US senator from Pennsylvania, with 23.6 per cent; and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, with 11.2 per cent.
The defeats for Paul and Santorum could be a stinging blow. Santorum told a Pasco crowd on Thursday: “We can put this race on a whole other plane if Washington speaks conservatively on Saturday.”
Paul also had high hopes in the state. He ran ads, drew enthusiastic crowds throughout the state and greeted voters in Puyallup on Saturday. He has counted on strong showings in caucus states, where turnout is low and activists are more prominent.
But Romney, who campaigned in Kennewick on Thursday and Friday, had the support of vital Republican establishment figures and argued he was the true conservative.
Romney will undoubtedly trumpet support from Republicans in the west’s second-largest state as proof he is hurtling toward the presidential nomination, even though fewer than 2 per cent of the state’s 3.7 million voters were expected to turn out. The win is Romney’s third in a big state in five days; he won Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday.
“I’m heartened to have won the Washington caucuses, and I thank the voters for their support. Every day that passes with Barack Obama in the White House is a day in which America’s recovery from the economic crisis is delayed,” he said on Saturday, according to AP.
In a year when Republicans have valued electability highly, the strong Washington showing could influence on-the-fence voters. In all, 1144 delegates are needed to nominate at the Republican convention in August, and 419 are at stake Tuesday. No delegates were chosen in the Washington caucus Saturday.
The most closely watched race on Tuesday will be in Ohio, where Romney and Santorum are in a close competition. Santorum faced new trouble there after it was revealed on Friday he failed to file full delegate slates, which could cost him as many as 18 delegates.
The candidates also are vying in Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma and elsewhere on the single biggest day of the primary and caucus season.
In Washington on Saturday, turnout was heavy, and reports said people were waiting in line at many caucus sites and even being turned away.
The caucus results are non-binding but start the process of selecting the state’s 43 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August. But because of the crowds, the results could trigger controversy.
Ray Swenson, a Richland lawyer, criticized local GOP officials for poor organization and said the results on Saturday should be invalidated.